Figs are my absolute favourite fruit and I try to eat as much of them as possible while they are in season. While I love eating them as they are, I also like to incorporate them into other dishes. This recipe takes the typical and beloved basbousa and elevates it to something even more delicious!
Basbousa or hareesa, as we call it in the Levant, is a semolina cake soaked in simple syrup. This should not be confused with North African hareesa, which is a spice mix. The word basbousa comes from the Arabic word, “bassa”, which is the word for wetting or combining flour with a liquid or fat. As for the word hareesa, it comes from the Arabic word “harasa” meaning “to mash”. This dessert is made all across the Middle East and there are so many different variations of it, including ones stuffed with dates or chocolate. It is linked to many holidays and celebrations, such as Ramadan and Eid, but for me, it reminds me of my grandmother and how she would make a huge tray of it for her guests, both announced and unannounced. She somehow had a sixth sense about when she would receive unannounced guests and always had a fresh tray of hareesa ready for them! Her nephew had a huge fig tree that I would climb and pick figs from every summer in Jordan and these two memories are what inspired this dessert.
In this recipe, the figs need to be poaching, this not only softens them, it also sweetens them when they aren’t the sweetest and also infuses the syrup with a delicate fig flavour, which we will then pour onto our cakes. I like to peel my figs after poaching them because I prefer not to bite into the skin when eating the cakes, but this is a personal preference and you can skip this step. If you feel your syrup is quite watery, you can let it simmer for a few minutes to thicken up and reduce. Do not reduce it too much, as it continues to thicken as it cools.
Once the cakes are baked and ready, you want to pour your cooled syrup on them immediately. You want about a tablespoon or two on each. This may look like a lot, but the syrup will continue to soak as it cools and will be absorbed all the way through. Once they have cooled, enjoy with a hot cup of mint tea!